Several leading scientists have sent a letter to the Texas State Board of Education urging board members to reject an amendment that attacks one of evolution's key principles, that all life on Earth is descended from a common ancestor.
Leading members of the Texas scientific community, in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), urged the state board "to reject amendments to the state's draft science standards that would undermine sound science teaching," according to an AAAS statement released today.
The board is to take a final vote on the standards on Friday.
The letter, sent yesterday, was addressed to Chairman Don McLeroy and the other members of the Texas board. In it, the scientists said certain amendments, introduced and approved during the January 2009 board meeting, "would mislead students should they make it into the final standards."
Among other things the pending amendment says students should "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency and insufficiency of common ancestry." But scientists say there is no real argument about common ancestry, one of the foundational concepts of evolution. "The scientific consensus is that evolution is the backbone of modern biology and many other fields of science, underlying advances in areas such as agriculture and medicine," the scientists write.
The letter acknowledges that the board "did the students of Texas a great service" when it earlier rejected insertion of language in the science standards that spoke of the "weaknesses" of evolutionary theory.
Critics fear that the amendment, using the terms "sufficiency and insufficiency," is little different from the earlier effort to raise questions about evolution. Downplaying evolution's place in science "only serves to confuse students," the scientists say in their letter to the board.
The letter also notes that pending revisions to the Earth and Space Science standards "introduce unwarranted uncertainty to long-settled scientific issues" such as the processes of planet formation.
"We urge you to vote for removing anti-science changes to the draft standards and protect the future of science education and technology-based industry in Texas," the scientists write.
The letter was signed by Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS, and David E. Daniel, president of the University of Texas at Dallas and 2009 president of The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST). They were joined by 23 others, including Francisco G. Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, and Robert F. Curl, a Nobel laureate in chemistry at Rice University.
Evolution has another unlikely supporter in former president George W. Bush, who in the waning days of his administration said he doesn't think that his belief that God created the world is "incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution."
- More Evolution News & Information
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.